Give What Comes Naturally
Thomas Calabrese — Hodge Tucker graduated Cal State San Marcos with a bachelor’s degree in mass communications. He began seeking employment and went on several interviews, but nothing really felt right to him. When he did some research about military opportunities for college graduates, Hodge thought he could enhance his skills and marketability with some practical experience so he enlisted in the Marine Corps. He served three combat deployments as a communications officer where he either assisted or commanded various aspects of planning, installation, operation, displacement and maintenance of data, telecommunication and computer systems. Captain Hodge Tucker had served almost six years in the military and his enlistment would be up in two months. He had learned as much as he could in his current assignment and was seriously considering returning to civilian life.
He was currently stationed at Camp Pendleton when two men from the Department of Defense approached him about joining a multi-service covert unit. The first thing that crossed Hodge’s mind as the two men vaguely explained the opportunity was that there were smarter men and women in the Corps that were more qualified than him. Hodge’s evaluation reports in the military met or exceeded the required standards, but they hardly set him apart from his peers.
When he met with the men for a second time, Hodge voiced his concerns, “You haven’t really told me too much and I’m not prepared to re-enlist without more details.”
The first man responded, “We’re not authorized to tell you any more than we already have.”
“We can do this though,” The second man interjected, “You sign up and if it doesn’t work for either one of us, we’ll terminate you for any reason, but on the other hand you can walk away if it is not for you.”
“Whoa, this doesn’t sound like any military unit that I have ever heard of. I can walk away if I don’t like it…that’s hard to believe,” Hodge responded.
“We may be affiliated with the military, but we have our own set of regulations,” The First Man smiled, “There is no way for you to know for sure until you sign up. It’s your call.”
What Captain Hodge Tucker had forgotten was the extensive battery of tests that was given to five thousand military officers from all branches of the military six months earlier, of which he was one of them. The test was publicized as a standard aptitude exam that the Pentagon was developing for new recruits and they wanted to see how accurate it was by giving it to current military personnel who already had their military occupational specialty (MOS). That was not the case; it was actually a cutting edge psychological examination that was designed to find specific characteristics and the unique individuals who possessed them.
Hodge’s test results had indicated that he was loyal, dedicated and able to think outside the ‘so called’ box. He possessed creativity and clarity, a rare combination. He was self-confident, but not to the point of egotism and had the ability to react quickly in any situation. He knew his limits, but didn’t mind pushing them to the point of breaking. These were exactly the type of skills that the Omega Protocol was looking for.
The fact that Hodge grew up in the foster care system with no close family ties and was single also made him more desirable to the agency. The test was not foolproof so even after his acceptance into the covert agency, Hodge would still have to go through a difficult training regime to prove that his traits could be developed into useful skills. The special training facility was located on an isolated area of Camp Pendleton. There were twenty five other recruits, several instructors and high fencing and security around the buildings. Captain Hodge Tucker figured that he had nothing to lose by checking things out. He was more curious than motivated, but once he had a chance to talk with the staff and discuss the mission statement, everything just felt right to him. That was four years ago and Hodge had come a long way since that day. He was now able to speak five languages fluently and read and understood a dozen more. His skills in cyber warfare were exceptional and he was well trained in martial arts and weapons.
There were two teams, the one on the East Coast was stationed at Quantico Virginia and the West Coast unit was on Camp Pendleton. Whenever possible, the operatives were given their choice of duty stations. The men of Omega Protocol were top secret operatives and their identities needed to be protected at all costs so nothing was ever purchased or reserved in their names. They were given pre-paid debit cards or used cash for their transactions. If they chose to stay in town, the agency took care of the reservations and all vehicles were leased through a front company.
Hodge and his team had just completed a grueling six week assignment in the Philippines where they tracked down a group of terrorists that kidnapped a missionary and his wife. Five members of the team were wounded, including Hodge and one was killed during a firefight with the Islamic radical group, Abu Sayyaf. When the team returned to Camp Pendleton, they were given two weeks off for rest and recreation. While the men worked as a cohesive unit in the field, they were discouraged from socializing together when they were off duty. The men put in their requests to the administration personnel who did their best to accommodate them with travel and hotel reservations. Hodge’s upper left arm wound was caused by shrapnel from a rocket propelled grenade sustained during the firefight. The Corpsman applied a field dressing during the heat of battle, but he needed minor surgery to remove the embedded metal shards. After several hours at the hospital, only a few men were in the unit office when Hodge got back.
“How’s the arm?” Frank, one of the administrative clerks asked.
“It’s fine, thanks for asking.” Hodge smiled.
“What can I do for you?”
“Can you get me a week at the Marriott on Rancho Del Oro?”
“Sticking around town, what a surprise?” Frank answered.
“I do enough traveling when I’m on duty.”
Hodge made a call on the way into town and left a message, “I don’t know what your schedule is, but I just got back into town and thought if you weren’t busy.”
Hodge met Diane six months earlier when he was running the trail at Lake Calavera in Carlsbad. She had twisted her ankle and was limping back to her car. “Need any help?”
“I’m fine,” Diane grimaced, but it was obvious that she wasn’t.
“The sooner that you get some ice on that, the quicker your recovery will be,” Hodge warned.
“You’re probably right,” Diane said, “I appreciate your help.”
Hodge picked up Diane and carried her back to the parking lot and gently set her down on a bench. By this time her ankle had swollen to twice its normal size, “I don’t think you can drive, I can give you a ride to wherever you want to go. You can always come back for your car later.”
Diane was a cautious woman, but she had a good feeling about this man, “My office is off Palomar Airport Road. Is that too far?”
“Not at all, but I suggest that you let me take you straight to Tri City Emergency. We can get some ice along the way and then they can take x-rays to make sure you didn’t break anything. Even a hairline fracture can be troublesome if it goes untreated.”
“Sounds like you’re speaking from experience.” Diane said.
“I had my share of injuries, running and otherwise.” Hodge pointed to the bandage on his arm.
Diane unlocked her car, took her cellphone out of the center console and called her office to tell them about her mishap and where she would be. It took two hours for the x-rays to be taken and for a doctor to evaluate them. When Diane left the examining room on crutches with a man and woman to assist her, she saw Hodge sitting in the waiting room. When he saw her, he stood up and walked over, “What’s the diagnosis?”
Diane smiled, “Nothing broken, just a bad sprain.”
“That’s good news, it looks like you’re all taken of, so I’ll be on my way.”
“You didn’t have to wait,” Diane said.
“I know,” Hodge replied and walked off, “I didn’t have any place to go.”
By the time he reached his vehicle, the woman who came to help Diane had reached him. She tapped Hodge on the shoulder, “She wanted me to get your phone number.”
It was two weeks later and Hodge was martial arts training at his unit’s location on Camp Pendleton when he heard a distinctive ring. He stopped sparring, walked over to his gym bag and pulled out his phone. Hodge looked at the screen, but didn’t recognize the number, “Hello.”
“I don’t know if you remember me, you helped me out at Lake Calavera,” Diane said.
“How’s the ankle?” Hodge inquired.
“About ninety per cent healed, I’ll be back to trail running in a couple weeks.”
“Good to hear,” Hodge replied.
“I didn’t get the chance to properly thank you.”
No thanks are necessary, I was glad I was around to help,” Hodge said.
“I don’t know if you’re married, seeing somebody or if you just don’t want to go, but I’d like to invite you to lunch,” Diane said.
“No, no and yes,” Hodge replied.
“ No I’m not married and no I’m not seeing anyone and yes I liked to go to lunch,” Hodge added, “Sometimes it’s a little hard for me to get off at lunchtime, how about an early bird dinner, 1600 hours… I mean 4 o’clock.”
“I understand military time,” Diane said, “That works for me…someplace in Carlsbad or Oceanside alright with you?”
“Any food preferences or allergies? Diane asked.
“No, anything is fine with me.”
Diane could hear people talking in the background and their verbiage sounded military, “One more thing.”
“We don’t know each other’s name, I’m Diane.”
Before Hodge could answer, a voice called out ‘Hodge,’ are you going to stay on the phone all day?”
“You’re Hodge, I’ll text you with the details,” Diane interrupted .
“Roger that, I mean o.k.”
Diane Mayfield was the granddaughter of Douglas Mayfield, founder of Mayfield Properties. The company owned industrial parks, shopping centers and commercial properties through California, Nevada and Arizona. Diane was an executive vice-president and her office was located in Carlsbad. She was wealthy and didn’t have a very good record with men because once they found out who she was, things changed dramatically. Diane couldn’t be sure if they liked her or her money and that lack of trust hampered any long term relationships. This man called Hodge only knew her as someone who sprained her ankle and she intended to keep it way.
Hodge met Diane at Norte’s a Mexican restaurant in Carlsbad for a late lunch or early dinner, depending on your perspective. Neither one spoke much about themselves or asked too many questions of the other. About the only information that was shared between the two besides their preferences on the menu was that Diane worked in real estate and Hodge was in the Marine Corps and was stationed at Camp Pendleton. After finishing their meal, Hodge started to pay, but Diane reminded him, “I invited you…remember?”
As they exited the restaurant, Hodge offered, “Like to take a walk on the beach?”
“I would,” Diane replied.
Hodge and Diane walked for almost ten minutes without saying a word, “You’re not the most talkative guy in the world,” Diane commented.
“You’re not exactly a Chatty Kathy,” Hodge retorted.
They continued walking north for ten more minutes without speaking before turning back. When they got back to where they started, Diane commented truthfully, “I really enjoyed this.”
Hodge added, “When I’m in a social situation I sometimes have a flashback to when I was an awkward scared teenager trying to make witty conversation with some girl. I never felt that uncontrollable urge to fill in those extended periods of silence with meaningless small talk so thank you for that.”
“I think you mastered the art of choosing your words carefully long before you met me.”
“Should we push our luck or quit while we’re ahead?”
“Let it ride?” Diane smiled.
On paper there was nothing about this relationship that indicated it would work out except for one very important fact. Whenever they were together, Hodge and Diane were always in the moment, never worrying about what awaited them around the next corner or the next day. They saw each other several more times over the next few weeks, but just as things started to go to the next level, Hodge was assigned to a mission in the Ukraine, “I’ll be gone for a while, don’t know exactly when I’ll be back and I can’t keep in touch. Is that going to be a problem?”
“It’s a problem because I’m going to miss you, but it’s a problem I’m willing to deal with because I care about you,” Diane kissed Hodge and walked away then looked back, “Call me when you get back.”
The mission took three times longer than expected and Hodge’s first call after he took care of everything on base was to Diane.
“It’s good to hear from you, it’s been a long six weeks.”
“Sorry about that,” Hodge said, “I got back as fast as I could.”
“Are you alright?” Diane asked.
“A little jet lag, but nothing I can’t handle.”
“Do you have enough energy to join me for dinner, lunch, breakfast?” Diane coyly asked.
“Name the time …name the place and I’ll be there,” Hodge promised.
It was crowded at 333 Pacific, a restaurant in Oceanside when Hodge and Diane entered, “I should have made reservations, forgive me?”
“I’ve got no place to go and there’s no place I’d rather be than with you,” Hodge responded.
“Let me talk to the hostess and see if I can speed things up a little, I’ll meet you at the bar,” Diane said.
Two men were standing off to the side when they saw a group of five other men enter and begin to fan out.
“Aw hell, I think we’re in big trouble,” First Man said.
“Let’s see if I can give them another target of opportunity,” The second man smiled.
When Diane left the hostess’ station, the second man approached her, “I heard you talking, my friend and I have reservations, why don’t you take ours.”
“We have some others things to do, we’ll either come back later or eat somewhere else,” The Second Man offered then added, “I heard you say that your dinner date was in the military. Thank him for his service.”
“That is very kind of you,” Diane smiled.
“The reservation is under the name Van Horn.”
When Diane returned to the bar, Hodge asked, “How did it go?”
When the name Van Horn was called, Diane said, “That’s us.”
As Diane and Hodge walked to the table, Hodge saw five men watching them very intently from various locations around the eating establishment. It definitely aroused his highly trained instincts, but he didn’t let it interfere with an excellent dinner with Diane. When they finished their meal, they decided to take a walk on the Oceanside Pier. The five men from the restaurant were following them and this did not escape Hodge’s attention who was always on alert for anything out the ordinary.
Diane held Hodge’s hand in hers, “I need to tell you more about me.”
“You don’t need to do anything; I know everything I need to know.”
“I want to tell you,” Diane insisted.
Right about that time, Hodge noticed the five men approaching, “That is going to wait.”
One of the men called out, “Van Horns!”
Just one of the men pulled out his pistol, Hodge grabbed his wrist, flipped him over on his back and shot him in the chest then shot two more men in their legs and when they dropped to their knees, he shot both of them in the head. The last man pulled out a knife and lunged at Diane; Hodge stepped in between the two and redirected the blade of the knife into the man’s chest.
“It looks like I’m not the only one keeping secrets,” Diane stammered.
Hodge quickly took photos of the men’s faces with his phone and sent before he and Diane made a hasty exit from the pier.
Omega Protocol obtained and reviewed the close circuit camera footage from 333 Pacific and identified the two men who gave their reservation to Diane as MI6 agent Christopher Ironside and KGB assassin Sergei Trofimoff. They were captured in St, Tropez, France and brought to a blacksite for enhanced interrogation. It didn’t take much to get them singing like songbirds in the morning.
They were hired by presidential candidate Bernice Bookman to dig up incriminating evidence on rival Kimili Wharton. The two foreign agents found that Kimili was working with human traffickers to flood the southern border with unaccompanied minors to further her political aspirations. The two agents had photos, a flashdrive and a detailed dossier and the exchange was supposed to take place at 333 Pacific for three million dollars.
The Bookman people were supposed to ask for the Van Horn table upon their arrival with the cash. When Ironside and Trofimoff saw henchmen from the Wharton organization, they decided to abort the exchange while making the grievous error of throwing Hodge and Diane to the wolves. Had they known who Hodge was, they would have looked for an individual who wasn’t as dangerous as the elite special operative. Bernice Bookman and Kimili Wharton dropped out of the Presidential race then resigned completely from politics. They mysteriously disappeared within months of each other; Bernice Bookman while at a cooking seminar in Tijuana, Mexico and Kimili Wharton during a photographic safari to the Antarctica. Nobody was in a position to dispute those reports.
Diane told Hodge all about her business and who she was, but Hodge was still prohibited from telling her anything more about himself other than he worked for a special unit in the military. “Hardly seems fair, you trusted me and I still can’t tell you anything. Not exactly an equal exchange, is that going to be a deal breaker?”
“With anybody else maybe, but not with you,” Diane smiled, “How about this for a deal…Share what you can…give what comes naturally.”
Their agreement was sealed with a passionate embrace and a long kiss.